Migrant Hostel is an important poem when expressing belonging and not belonging as both sides of the concepts of belonging are shown through connections with character groups as well as places. It explores the barriers that prevent belonging through a variety of techniques that allow readers to fully understand the types of barriers that can prevent belonging. Stanza 1 and 4 show that characters may encounter barriers which prevent belonging. In stanza 4, the hostel is a barrier that holds the migrants back and prevents them from belonging.
The barrier at the main gate is not only physical, but mental as well. It physically holds them back from continuing with their lives; whilst it also prevents them from feeling that they belong due to their lack of freedom. The line ‘A barrier at the main gate, sealed off the highway’ represents the metaphorical ‘highway of life’. The lack of control that they have over their life is what prevents them from feeling that they belong. The barrier holds them as ‘captives’ both mentally and physically.
Stanza 1 shows that change can lead to a sense of not belonging. It creates ideas of uncertainty through the use of the words ‘arrivals’, ‘sudden’, and ‘left us wondering’. The changes that happen at the hostel only emphasise the lack of control that the migrants have their, and thus forcing them to feel that their life is not theirs to live. This leads to a feeling of not belonging. The 1st stanza has a negative atmosphere and shows the migrants to be uneasy. The concept of belonging is conveyed through the characters and their relationships in stanza 2.
Within the migrant hostel, the migrants seek out people of their own nationalities, as it is human nature to want to be with people that are similar to themselves. This is shown through the quote, ‘Nationalities sought each other out instinctively’. The plural ‘nationalities’ in the first line of the stanza show that there are many people within the hostel, however they have no connection. The simile ‘like a homing pigeon’ represents the human desire to seek out similarities in other people to feel accepted by others. A feeling of unification can lead to a sense of belonging.
Shared experiences can also allow individuals to understand one another, leading to acceptance and therefore belonging. The migrant hostel inhabitants share the experiences of war, shown through the last lines of the stanza ‘Partitioned off at night by memories of hunger and hate’. This discomfort is what allows them to understand one another and form relationships, which leads to belonging. The concept of belonging is conveyed through places. Migrant Hostel shows the concept of belonging in places by showing that a place can unite people.
The recurring use of the word ‘we’ in stanza 3 and 4 show that the experiences that the migrants have had in the hostel have united them. The hostel, while it is a barrier, it also allows them to come together. The line ‘we lived like birds of passage’ shows the shared lifestyle of the migrants through the use of a simile, as well as the imagery of birds. It represents how they long to have freedom, which is a feeling that all migrants would experience. The lifestyle that the hostel creates for them is compared to the weather in stanza 3. The life at the hostel is a cycle of passage, just as the weather has cycles.
The line ‘Needing its sanction to pass in and out of lives’ shows that the migrants are looking for the ‘approval’ of the hostel in order to continue with their lives. From gaining the ‘approval’ of the hostel, the migrants are able to feel that they belong. Migrant Hostel explores the different aspects of belonging and not belonging through the experiences of people who are unwanted and trapped by physical and mental barriers. they are able to feel accepted due to similarities in experience and nationalities, however are prevented from moving on with their lives due to the human wish to feel accepted and that they belong.
Courtney from Study Moose
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